Police got the formal green light to stop and frisk citizens, even without “reasonable suspicion,” after the Knesset passed a controversial bill into law on Tuesday.
Opposition MKs and civil rights activists have warned that the legislation will increase police discrimination against minority groups.
Until now, the law only allowed frisking if police had sufficient reason to suspect the person was concealing a weapon and even then, according to a court definition, only if they saw a bulge in the target’s clothing which suggested a knife or a gun, said MK Nissan Slomiansky (Jewish Home), chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
Now, police officers will have the right to search any individual’s body, clothes and bags even if there is no reason to suspect the person is carrying a weapon.
Police will be able to frisk passersby if they have “a reasonable suspicion” they are “about to carry out an act of violence against another.” A “reasonable suspicion” is defined as a person in a public place “acting in a bullying manner, including verbal violence, or threats, or acting in another intimidating or frightening manner.”
A temporary provision, valid for a year, allows police to frisk even without reasonable suspicion, on the basis of “fear” that the person intends to carry out a terror attack.
The new law waters down some provisions of the original version of the bill presented at first reading, reducing the slew of businesses police are allowed to enter to carry out body searches. “Reasonable suspicion” will allow the cops to enter nightclubs, but only after they have informed their district commander in advance, the Haaretz daily reported.
The measure passed the Knesset 39 to 31 on third reading.
During the Knesset debate, opposition MKs claimed the new law would boost discrimination against minorities who will always be suspect in the eyes of the police.
“The coalition is once again flagrantly ignoring the daily distress of weak groups, who suffer serious discrimination in Israel,” said MK Michal Rozin (Meretz).
She predicted that police would employ “selective discrimination” against minorities such as Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews, and immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union and would rush to frisk them.
“Police are no less racist than anyone else. Whoever says he or she doesn’t see color is the biggest racist of all.”
MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) said he feared the legislation would also lead to more sexual harassment of women.
Jamal Zahalka (Joint List) said the new law “unleashed” the police to do whatever they wished.
In the run-up to the vote late Monday night, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel warned that “the first to suffer will be Ethiopians, Arabs and people of Middle Eastern appearance.”
Nissan Slomiansky said the compromise struck the right balance between the needs of the police and respect for individuals.
The bill was proposed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan as part of a series of measures aiming to prevent further Palestinian attacks in the current wave of unrest.
Last year, the Ethiopian immigrant community was enraged by video footage which showed two police officers pummeling an Ethiopian-born Israeli army soldier, Damas Pakada, who alleged he was the target of a racist attack.
Violent protests erupted after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein closed his probe of the incident, claiming the soldier had provoked the clash.
In late 2014, thousands of Israeli Arab protesters massed in the Galilee town of Kafr Kanna, protesting the shooting to death of a man while he was fleeing from them after attacking their vehicle with a knife. In May, the case against the police officer was closed.
Last month, Arabs complained of abuse and discrimination as police searched for terrorist Nashat Milhem, who murdered three Israelis including two outside a pub in Tel Aviv.
In one popular and sarcastic Facebook status, Ramat Aviv resident Ahmad Amer wrote:
“So the police decided today 4.1.16, that it makes perfect sense to enter our apartment in Ramat Aviv, to turn it completely upside-down in a barbaric way, to take out the clothes in the closet, because obviously the terrorist is hiding in the third shelf, to turn over the couch because, no doubt, he crawled under there.
“Of course, all this without any warrant — because we are Arabs and we — a doctor, an engineer, and manager in the stock exchange want to hide your terrorist.”